I hear a knock at the door and my girlfriend enters. She sees me, wild eyed and alone in the dark. “Have you been playing that all day?” she asks. “No, been working, only just started”, I lie like only an addict can.
Truth be told I stopped enjoying the game about 3 hours ago. Guilt over undone work and my inability to stop has me feeling faintly hysterical. My eyes hurt and I think I smell. Jennifer thinks so too.
_Borderlands_ is a first person shooter mixed with a role playing game. Character classes, leveling and looting are mixed seamlessly with typical video game blasting. You’re placed in a comic book styled wasteland on the planet Pandora. You’re task is to find the vault; a store of alien technology which everyone seems to be after. This is the beginning and end of anything pertaining to a plot. The game is about killing stuff until you’re powerful enough to kill bigger stuff and repeat, ad infinitum. That’s it; this is grinding, plain and simple.
You might take all the above as a criticism, but actually it’s had me hooked all day. It’s true I am no longer having fun, but I am still unable to stop. Why, might you ask? The answer is the gaping hunger of the human soul; that which always says “just a bit more”. The games core is a cunning slow drip of tiny rewards which keeps you just sat there, wasting your life for that next level or piece of equipment. The developers claim the number of guns runs into the thousands and once you’ve finished, you can start the game over again, with your über character, on a harder difficulty to get even more guns, to get even better.
What is the main ally of the drug pusher? The addict’s friends or, if not their friends, then at least some random strangers who share and enable their habit. The online multiplayer allows 4 people to play through the game cooperatively; enemies will get tougher as more people join the game. There are four classes and you can specialise your skills to better compliment your team as a whole. The first 10-15 hours of the game do not require any serious amount of team work, but I imagine the later game does (never mind the harder difficulties). Like most things it’s a lot more fun with company. All money, class and equipment progress made online is saved to your single player game; you never feel like you’re not achieving something. Of course you’re not achieving anything really, but you’re made to feel like it. The added party dynamic and showing off your character/equipment turns the cocaine mix to heroin and is roughly 3.2x more fun than its single player counterpart.
The problem is, if you need more from your games than magpie hoarding and getting better for the sake of it (or bragging rights), you will probably find the experience lackluster.
The visuals are over the top comic book style; simple cartoon textures, big landscapes, ridicules monsters and weaponry so gratuitous it’s verging on gun porn. Half my house love it, the other half (me included) find it pretty dull. _Fallout 3_ created a wasteland with oodles more atmosphere and at times was really quite beautiful. In Borderlands no scene from the entire game stands out. It all looks and plays exactly the same, a big generic comic blur. Perhaps the later stages vary dramatically but in the 15 or so hours I have played the scenery never diversified past different shades of brown. In a simple comic book style with little detail this is very noticeable.
A lack of story and gameplay diversity would not be an issue in a visual feast, but the repetitive gameplay without visual variation to keep things fresh means that, despite being addictive, Boarderlands feels even more shallow than the regular killing-countless creatures-for-money type game. The occasionally hinted at hardships and madness facing the inhabitants of Pandora is never developed and never has any deeper impact because you just never meet a single character. Sure there are people shaped vending machines to supply tasks (which involve either fetch/kill x) but nobody with a personality. Everyone is just mad or bad, but in a very superficial way, there is nothing and no-one to root for or anchor you to the world. You do encounter odd audio journals but these are so rare, divorced in style and content from the actual game you never connect the recounted stories to the world you inhabit. Everything is an inch deep, it ends up being either accidently shallow or deliberately nihilistic, either way the experience left me feeling a little bit depressed.
Then again you might decide this doesn’t matter. It is supposed to be mind numbing not soul enriching, I hear you say. Fair enough but just bear in mind that’s all your going to get.